“We must uphold the rule of law,” screeched those opposing Premier Doug Ford’s Bill 31 using the Charter of Rights’ notwithstanding clause to override the original Bill 5 which sought to reduce the number of Toronto wards from 47 to 25.
Four hundred or so “legal professionals” added their name to an open letter written by academia urging Attorney General Caroline Mulroney to stand up to Ford “to value the role of the judiciary and the important check that the courts have on the impulses of the government.” Even the long forgotten ex-AG Yasir Naqvi came out of oblivion to lecture Mulroney.
Well, the appellate level of our judiciary has spoken. Like a lightning bolt striking from above, a three-panel judge of Ontario’s highest court gave anti-Ford rabble-rousers what they wanted – the rule of law. But it wasn’t exactly what they expected. The Ontario Court of Appeal gave Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba and the City of Toronto a big smackdown.
The Belobaba decision was a legal abomination. His 15 minutes of fame has been stayed, pending appeal. His ruling was so egregious that lawyers on the side of the city and the affected councillors were emailing themselves incredulously that they had won. Giving each other high-fives.
The Court of Appeal didn’t mince words. Instead of finding the egregious breach of the Charter that Belobaba found by blending two different parts of the charter, freedom of expression and voters’ rights to arrive at a tortuous result, the court called the decision a “dubious ruling.”
In staying the effect of Belobaba’s decision, the court stated: “There is a strong likelihood that (sic) application judge erred in law … the application judge’s interpretation appears to stretch both the wording and purpose of s. 2(b) (freedom of expression) beyond the limits of that provision.”